Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation with a population of around 269 million, and a median age of around 30, is holding its fourth democratic election on April 17 after a six month campaign period. 193 million Indonesians will cast their votes to elect representatives to the national parliament, provincial and district legislatures, and directly elect the president.

In what amounts to a rematch the main contenders are the incumbent President Joko Widodo and former General Prabowo Subianto, a former special forces commander and head of the Great Indonesia Movement Party, who had been defeated in the 2014 elections.

Prabowo had been accused of human rights abuses during his military career, chiefly over unrest that brought down his former father-in-law Suharto in 1998 and led to his own discharge.

The background and manifestos of the candidates and the choice of running mates has led analysts to suggest both an increased influence of Islam in policy making and a greater say possiblily for the military.

Widodo has chosen senior cleric and politician Ma'ruf Amin from the country’s biggest moderate Muslim organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama, as his running mate. Widodo, is the first leader to come from outside Indonesia’s military and political elite and had been instrumental in Indonesia cracking down on militant Islamic groups. Authorities had launched investigations into prominent Muslim figures on charges of violating pornography laws or defamation.

The government also banned the hardline Hizb-ut Tahrir . But religious leaders say Widodo’s most effective strategy has been forging closer ties with Islamic boarding schools - which hold huge cultural and social sway in many parts of Indonesia . Electoral compulsions have seen Widod making a strong effort , sending volunteers house to house, for instance, in West Java, to secure the Muslim vote.

Prabowo has in his public comments been articulating a hardline message of potential threats to Indonesia. In speeches, he often says the country is on the verge of fragmentation, at the mercy of unspecified foreign powers. And that the Indonesian mother land is being raped. His party’s manifesto, seeks a return to Indonesia’s 1945 Constitution — a move that would abolish direct elections, remove presidential term limits and “correct liberal democracy” in Indonesia.

It also seeks to eliminate the distinction between defense and security which could justify the military’s omnipresent role in the polity. The current distinction that led to the separation of the police from the military was hard-fought during the democratic reform.

Prabowo has been able to secure backing from hardline Islamist groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and religious parties. He is expected to offer opportunities for supporters in the country’s sharia economy curbing businesses that offend Islamic sentiments, like alcohol or sensitive publications.

Prabowo has denied accusations of wanting to turn Indonesia into a caliphate, and says the diversity of religion in his own family is proof that he will uphold the official secular state ideology.Prabawo father was one of Indonesia’s most prominent economists, serving in the cabinets of both Presidents Sukarno and Suharto. He has named businessman and Jakarta vice governor Sandiaga Uno as his running mate.

Recent opinion polls undertaken for Indonesia’s leading daily Kompass by Litbang Kompas in end February-early March 2019 showed that Widodo’s Democratic Party of Struggle was likely to remain by far the largest party with a coalition of nine parties, called Koalisi Indonesia Kerja ("Working Indonesia Coalition")representing more than half of the current House of Representatives backing the incumbent President.

Except for the National Mandate Party, all parties in the governing coalition supported a second term for Jokowi. Of those nine parties, the Indonesian Unity Party and Indonesian Solidarity Party would be participating for the first time in elections.

The survey showed that the political parties backing Widodo were expected to get 52.3 percent of votes, while the coalition backing his challenger, retired general Prabowo Subianto, named Koalisi Indonesia Adil Makmur ("Prosperous and Just Indonesia Coalition") would only secure 29.5 percent.

But a more recent poll by the Kompass has shown that in the presidential race, Widodo’s big lead over Prabowo has been cut to below 12 percentage points from around 20.

Fake news on social media has been rampant during the campaign. It is estimated that fake news in Indonesia can total thousands of views in hours, despite the existence of laws against creating and spreading fake content. The incumbent President has for example been depicted as a member of Indonesia’s banned Communist party, a Chinese plant, or anti-Islam. While his opponent Prabowo has been called both impious and planning to create a caliphate, while his running mate has been portrayed inaccurately as gay.

For the first time the president, the vice president, and members of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), would be elected on the same day. Sixteen parties would be participating in the elections nationally, with four participating for the first time.

In Indonesia the responsibility for the conduct of the elections is that of the General Elections Commission or Komisi Pemilihan Umum, KPU), a legally independent government body. In addition, the election is monitored by the Elections Supervisory Agency (Bawaslu), which also has the authority to rule on violations of election rules.

The legislative election will see over 240,000 candidates competing for over 20,000 seats in the MPR and local councils for provinces and cities/regencies all being contested, with over 8,000 competing for the People's Representative Council seats alone. The election has described as "the most complicated single-day ballot in global history."

The presidential election is based on a direct, simple majority system. The system provides for a series of five debates between the contestants covering subjects like legal, human rights, terrorism, corruption, energy, food, infrastructure, natural resources and the environment etc. This time the KPU decided that the debates would not be in English but in Indonesian.

For the presidency, a candidate must receive support from political parties totaling 20 percent of the seats in the People's Representative Council or 25 percent of the popular vote in the previous legislative election. Political parties are allowed to remain neutral if they are unable to propose their own candidate. However, if a neutral party/parties is able to endorse their own candidatethey are required to do so, or be barred from participating in the next election.

Requirements for presidential/vice presidential candidates are that they be either Indonesia-born lifelong Indonesian citizens or naturalized citizens who were born abroad and obtained a foreign citizenship outside their own , with a minimum age of 40 and a requirement to "have a belief in the One and Only God". If the candidates have spouses, they must also be Indonesian citizens. A criminal record resulting in over 5 years of incarceration or an active bankruptcy also bars a candidate from running. There is a two term limit.

The election for Regional Representative Council members requires all candidate to not be a member of a political party, with a total of 807 candidates competing for the 136 seats. All legislative candidates must be an Indonesian citizen, over 21 years old, have graduated from senior high school (or equivalent), and have never been convicted for a crime resulting with a sentence of 5 years or more.

In addition, the candidates for the People's Representative Council or local DPRD must be endorsed by a political party, and are required to resign from their non-legislative government offices - except for the President and Vice President - or their state-owned company positions to run. Legislators running for reelection or for another body through a new political party are also required to resign. Although all provinces are allocated 4 seats, the number of candidates vary from 10 for West Papua to 49 for West Java.

The outcome of the elections will colour Indonesia’s polity—whether, despite being the largest Muslim nation it retains its democratic character, or whether there could be an evolution comprising a mix of Islamic doctrine and militarism and possibly an increase in ethnic tensions if there is a dip in the economy.

Since the 1990s, the majority of the economy has been controlled by individual Indonesians and foreign companies. In 2012, Indonesia replaced India as the second-fastest-growing G-20 economy, behind China. Since then, the annual growth rate slowed down. The government has faced problems such as a weakening currency, decreasing exports and stagnating consumer spending.

Unemployment continues to impact on the sizeable young population. With the anti immigrant sentiment sweeping most of the western countries, and religion becoming a contributing factor for discriminatory practices, any slump in the Indonesian economy could see the Chinese becoming targets, and whichever government comes to power, finding it difficult to curb religion and ethnicity being used as instruments of discrimination.